The COVID-19 pandemic taught facility managers plenty about the operations inside their departments, from what was needed to get institutional and commercial facilities through the health emergency, and later what was necessary to move past the pandemic and prepare for the future.
It was no different at Holden Forests and Gardens outside Cleveland, Ohio, a facility that houses the Holden Arboretum and the Cleveland Botanical Gardens on 3,600 acres and includes two biomes. If power outages occurred in either structure, it could result in damaging consequences for the rare plants and animals inside the biomes.
It’s a gamble that Nico Viola, the gardens’ director of facilities, is unwilling to risk.
“If you lose power in the administration building, people aren’t doing office work, but nothing’s dying,” says Viola, one of the Facility Market’s 2022 Facility Champions. “But if you lose power in one of the (biomes), you have to worry about the plants, the birds, all the animals. If you lose power at the research center, and sometimes they have experiments that are going on in the autoclave that might be running for days, if not weeks, to calculate data, if the power goes out, all of a sudden that’s weeks of research down the drain. It’s very critical that we make sure all of our systems are running at top speed and everything’s working.”
Holden Forests and the Cleveland Botanical Gardens do present unique challenges for Viola. One biome, named Madagascar, requires the warm and dry conditions while the other, Costa Rica, requires warm and very humid conditions. Each biome has custom-built HVAC systems to maintain the necessary conditions around the clock which Viola’s staff maintains with building automation systems so that monitoring is more easily done remotely. Two research facilities also require special attention.
Yet even with all of these unique situations, it was a different incident that reminded Viola of the importance of having emergency power options available in case something went wrong.
“Very early on during the pandemic, we came to the realization that we needed to update our emergency power and install a generator at our administration building because we kept having these power outages due to storms and other things in the past that have never been much of an issue,” he says. “With everyone working remotely and everyone logging into VPN into the building server so they could work from home, the server would go down and everyone was just sitting at home with nothing to do because they had no way of connecting back to the server.”
Gardens’ leadership considered other options before opting to install the generator.
“We’d originally thought about moving our primary server back to the Botanical Gardens from the administration building at the Arboretum, but then determined for safety reasons it made more sense for it not to be there,” Viola says. “We put a generator there and put a very large system in that building. It’s got its own dedicated natural gas line running to it, with a transfer switch. If the power goes out, it’s milliseconds before the power is back up and running.”
Emergency power has always been a serious consideration for the gardens. For example, the Science Center on the campus was built in the 1990s and had a generator that provided sufficient power at the time. But with additional equipment added to the building since, Viola said leadership is studying how to upgrade the emergency power options.
The facility reviews its emergency power policy plans about twice a year to make sure that staff is up to date on any new policies or that equipment is still operating as it should. The gardens have their own police and security group which helps develop a Disaster Emergency Response Plan.
“The whole emergency response plan during COVID kind of got torn down to its foundations and rebuilt because, nobody saw that coming,” Viola says. “We had nothing in our plans as to how to deal with a situation like that.”
As for future power plans, Viola is looking at more battery-powered backup sources that will lessen the facility’s dependence on diesel or natural gas generators.
“That might not be the answer for every part of campus,” he says. “When you look at the research facility, I don’t know if batteries alone would be safe, because if you had power out for four or five days, what would you do? You probably still need a generator, but for the parts of the campus that we can maybe get a little off the grid and do battery backups, we’re looking into that. We do want to push energy conservation as we move more into the future.”
Dave Lubach is managing editor for the Facilities Market. He has more than 7 years’ experience covering facilities maintenance and management.
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